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Settlers Stage a Triumphal Hike Staking Jewish Claim to West Bank

An estimated 7,000 Jewish settlers were shepherded by the army Thursday around a five-mile circular route in the West Bank in what was officially billed as a hike to observe Israel’s Independence Day.

But to the hikers, most of them activists in the Gush Emunim settlement movement, it was a triumphal march in celebration of the clandestine erection this week of a new West Bank Jewish settlement called Revava.

The establishment of Revava overnight Monday was advanced from original plans to inaugurate the settlement on Independence Day.

The march was scaled down and reduced to the status of hike when the Israel Defense Force complained it could not spare the troops and equipment needed to protect the much bigger parade originally organized by the Gush Emunim.

The IDF was also under pressure from opposition factions in the Knesset to ban the event altogether, since its policy precludes political demonstrations in the territories.

But the settlers’ clout with Israel’s right-wing government prevailed.

Gush Emunim agreed to certain ground rules, however. There were no official signs directing people to any site. There were no political posters and no water canteens along the way to create the impression the event was organized.

The route of the settlers, some of whom carried firearms, was from Karnei Shomron to Ma’aleh Shomron, southwest of Nablus. Police and IDF officers saw to it that none of the hikers approached Revava, which consists for the time being of a collection of mobile homes, inhabited by about 40 people.

Both the settlement and the march were intended as gestures of defiance to the United States, which regards Jewish settlements in the territories as an “obstacle to peace.”

Only hours after the hike ended, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker arrived for his third round of talks with Israeli leaders in six weeks.

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